Amidst India and the US expecting to sign a vital defence technology sharing pact, there is an evident resentment by US over the lack of any major deal in the recent past. India has signed up multi-billion dollar deals with Russia, including the $4 billion deal for S-400 air defence missiles

by Manu Pubby

New Delhi: India is likely to face questions about several major defence deals inked with Russia at the upcoming 2-plus-2 dialogue in Washington, with experts pointing out several high-value purchases from the US that have remained pending amid budgetary constraints.

While India and the US are expected to sign a vital defence technology sharing pact, there is a sense of resentment in Washington over the lack of any major defence deal being signed in the past three years. Even on the technology sharing pact, last-minute consultations are still on.

Experts are pointing to big-ticket contracts with Russia, where despite financial sanctions in place, special arrangements have been made to route money through and several big-ticket items on the agenda from the US where apparently, budgetary constraints have resulted in a go slow.

The last big deals signed with the US were in 2016, with the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route being used. The Indian Army had then placed orders worth $700 million for 145 of the M 777 Ultra-Light Howitzers that have since being inducted and are suitable for mountain warfare. Besides, the Navy had placed an order worth $1 billion for P8I maritime aircraft.

While the US has given clearance for a variety of defence items, orders have not been placed by the services. Officials pointed out that in this period, India has signed up multi-billion dollar deals with Russia, including the $5.4-billion deal for S 400 air defence missiles, the $2.1-billion deal for four frigates and the $3-billion contract to lease a nuclear submarine for the Navy.

“There is a sense of wonder as the message coming out from the services has been that the budget is strained but on the other hand, we see the money heading to Russia,” an expert said. Over the past three years, India has navigated through tough US regulations to gain permissions to buy advanced equipment like the armed Sea Guardian drone for the three services: defence, defence technology, foreign military.

While the case for purchase of 30 drones – 10 each for the three services – has moved through the US system, there seems to be reluctance among the Indian armed forces to proceed. Though the Navy has been keen to proceed with the program, the Air Force and Army have their budgets tied up in existing plans, leaving little scope to go ahead on the program.

The two deals that are close to getting inked are the Poseidon P8I maritime aircraft valued at over $3 billion and the $ 2.6 billion deal for 24 naval multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters, both being channelled through the FMS route.